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Life is Too Short to Read Bad Fiction

Life is too short, and I think I’m finally beginning to understand the value of my time.

That’s not to say that I’m any better at spending it productively.

I’ve spent many nights mindlessly gaming on my device of choice with reruns of Adult Swim in the background. It helps my brain unwind. Even last night, I spent way too long messing with sudoku puzzles (pencil/paper versions, thank you very much) because I felt that unplugging was more beneficial than (enter mundane chore, task or responsibility here). That’s only partially procrastination-related bullshit. I do feel better actually having down time, but I get caught up in the inertia of being down and I have to better structure my time.

One of the things I’ve been crowing about for some time is my discovery of audiobooks as a way to increase how much I’m able to read in a given year. It’s been a fantastic tool, I am happier for being able to delve into a story and make use of otherwise “lost” time. It’s not uncommon for me to listen while I drive, do the grocery shopping, file my Magic cards, or while doing any other mundane little task that doesn’t require 100% of my brain power. I am also slightly more likely to branch out and read something outside my normal preferences since it’s not devoting any of my precious non-working/non-writing/non-schoolwork/non-sleeping time.  Since there’s a little more bravery and sense of adventure, there’s also a more opportunity to get a stinker.

Ok, that’s an exaggeration. It’s all perception and personal taste. For example, I don’t like the smell of Chanel No.5; in my opinion, it stinks, but many others disagree. As much as I’ve read, I’ve encountered books that were painful to read. In the past, I’ve spent eye-rolling hours trying to slog through terribly writing and/or poor characterization (**cough**Twilight**cough**), lame plots, annoying characters/POV and a multitude of other literary sins because I wanted to either see what the hub-bub was about, or with the hopes that the ends would justify the means, or out of sheer guilt for leaving it unfinished (Moby Dick. Seriously. It’s been years and I cannot get through the damned thing…). The ones that I struggle with most are the stories that have good writing, good characters, and in which somewhat interesting things happen – but I just don’t care about. It’s not that there’s anything really wrong, it’s just…not for me. Here upon the spire of guilt I’ve impaled myself in the past.

I have discovered that I have a much lower tolerance for this kind of “pain” when it’s being piped into my brain through my ears. Instead of being able to soldier through, I have to stop. This is “reclaimed” time, and I refuse to lose it to something I can’t tolerate. One such audiobook from last year stands out (though I will not reveal which one it is simply out of courtesy). It’s not that the stories were poorly written, I just didn’t care. The stories were depressing and the tone of voice of the performer was a downer on top of that. I’m not (entirely) nihilistic and the whole ironic, disjointed dystopian style of story-telling irritated me. It reminded me of the overly pompous stories I used to workshop in college, where a bunch of idealistic, naive college freshmen would put out short pieces of High Literature giving Grand Insight into the Human Condition with pride and expectation of laurels from their peers. Most of the time, they just made my eyes bleed and made me question my own ability to tell a story. These were the kind of stories that would once have made me cringe with a sense of inadequacy, but now just piss me off by holding me hostage as I drive/grocery shop/file.

What I’ve learned since then is that taste matters in writing, not just skill. I can rail against the success of garbage, but the fact of the matter is it resonates with someone, even if they can’t tell quality from a hole in the ground. And maybe there is quality there I cannot appreciate, even if it only for picking it apart to figure out what was “broken” for me. I am not a book abandoner, but I think that there may be merit in doing it more often when a book is rankling my nerves, and maybe there really isn’t anything to feel guilty about, especially when there are so many more books I want to read. (You know you have a problem when your digital TBR pile won’t all fit on your iPod – and that’s only the digital pile.) There are many more that are more with my time (and sanity), and realizing this makes me feel a little better about it. Time will tell. Thankfully, this isn’t something that happens often, but I doubt I’ll hesitate so much in the future.

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